From time to time people say it might be a good idea for authors to take on board the way in which other media work, and incorporate it into their writing mode. I am impressed by this, and thought I might try it. I’m thinking about the kind of tv programme that not only shows its subject matter, but also breaks to show the preparations for filming, the presenters and other programme-makers in their time off, etc. So I wondered how a work of fiction would function in this way. I thought I’d use my own novel Last Train from Kummersdorf to illustrate the modus operandi. So: here goes.
They were rolling the blankets up when the old woman got down out of her waggon and went into the trees to do her business. Coming back, she called out to them.
‘Good morning. Are you off already?’
On the off-chance, Hanno asked: ‘Have you got any sausage? For another fag?’
Frau Rupf hesitated, then she winked at Hanno – she had a soft spot for him, he did right to be cheeky. Stealthily, she walked to the waggon, fished about among the sacks, did something in there and came to him with her hands behind her back. She winked again.
‘Either,’ said Hanno. He wasn’t going to play children’s games.
She showed him a good piece of sausage, about two centimetres thick, ten centimetres wide, real meat, pocketed with fat. Worth a fag, there was enough for him and Effi both. But old Rupf wasn’t after cigarettes this morning.
‘Give me a kiss.’ Her voice had gone soft, sentimental.
End of the day! Leslie goes into the kitchen and meets her daughter, Kathy, who’s at home, having returned from two years’ VSO in China. She’s doing work experience at Oxfam and financing herself by doing part-time work.
Leslie: ‘How was Autotrader?’
Kathy: ‘Someone got really angry with me. It wasn’t even anything I’d done! He said his advert hadn’t appeared in the paper. What’s for dinner? Shall I help you?’
Leslie: ‘Thanks. We’re having chicken provencale. Can you chop some peppers? You’re really good at that?’
Kathy (fetching chopping board and knife): ‘How’s the book coming on?’
Leslie: ‘Not bad at all. I’ve got to chapter ten, now. They’ve just spent a night in a wood and met some of the other main characters. Frau Rupf. She’s from Silesia, you know, where Grandma came from…’
Fadeout. Next day, Leslie is at the keyboard again, typing busily.
He kissed her old dry cheek, thinking he was only doing it for the meat, but then he found himself half-liking her. She had guts.
‘Now go away,’ she said. ‘I don’t want my daughter to know what I’ve been up to.’
They ate the sausage on the way back to the westward road. It was wonderful.
‘I’m not going to look like that when I’m old,’ said Effi.
‘How can you get out of it?’
At this point, Leslie tries to print and discovers that there’s no ink left in the printer. She rummages in the drawer and discovers that she hasn’t, after all, got a spare ink cartridge. We see her go out, go to the car, open the door and drive off.
In Office World
Leslie: ‘I’m looking for one of these ink cartridges, but I can’t see one out?
Shop assistant: ‘I’ll go and look for you.’
Focus on Leslie.
Leslie: I’m feeling really frustrated because I want to be writing more than anything else, but any time I get among stationery, I still have to look and I want to buy all kinds of crazy things, like these nice heart-shaped post-its -’
Assistant returns. ‘Here you are.’
Leslie: ‘Thank goodness for that.’ Goes to checkout. View of nice pink heart-shaped post-its going towards the till..
There were hardly any refugees on the road yet, but after a while they heard an engine running behind them and turned round to see a big silver car, dulled with dirt. There was a woman in the back wearing furs, you could see her felt hat inside the ruff of fuzzy darkness, a curl of smoke, a pair of made-up eyes. The driver blew his horn at them.
‘Lucky bitch,’ said Effi. Look at the fur coat. Sable. One day I’m going to have a coat as nice as that. Hey, d’you think it’s Eva Braun?’
Leslie suffers a total failure of imagination.
Leslie: ‘Only one thing for it. I need chocolate! Searches in fridge. No chocolate. Searches in storm porch. Still no chocolate. Now she gets her handbag and cycling clothes: if she cycles to the shop for chocolate, probably it will burn up the calories she gets from eating it.
In the future such novels will be able to include mini-MRI scans of writerly thoughts going round in her head as she cycles down the hill to Waitrose. After all, we do a lot of work when not at our desks.
And sometime, maybe, we’ll get back to the story...